27 October 2009

But you...you shall be encumbered with your own past, hm?

As a part of my Adolescent in American Literature class, we are reading various sub-genres within the genre of YA lit in order to better familiarize ourselves with the many types of books available to our future students as well as lessen the stigma of a "young adult" label. So far, we've read a YA novel of our choice (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), a "classic" YA novel of our choice (The Chocolate War), a realistic YA novel (Looking for Alaska), an author-specific novel (John Green, An Abundance of Katherines), a dystopian YA novel (The Hunger Games) and now, a historical fiction YA novel, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson.

Octavian leads the life of a prince--silk clothes, an education in the classics and the arts--but this son of an African once-princess is far from royalty. After having his curiousities aroused by the comments of a servant in "his" household, Octavian opens the "forbidden door," and discovers how limited his freedom really is. This psychological devestation, however, teaches Octavian more than he could ever have hoped to learn in his childhood home with the philosophers; he realizes the injustices in the world and goes off to fight them.

Stylistically, the author pays tribute to the time period, which I fully apprecite. I love the phrasing of Octavian's thoughts, the constant near-beat of the word. It's almost as though his mother's description of their native tongue as song rather than speech impacts the voice of Octavian, even before he has had that conversation with his mother. In short, I very much enjoy it.

Additionally, the novel has historical documents throughout, adding to the realism of Octavian's plight and, therefore, to the connection the audience feels with the protagonist. If students form a more personal connection with the narrator(s), they have more inspiration for completing the assignment regardless of the difficulty level. Yes, a student is less inclined to read anything they find too difficult, but I know that's one way I grew as a reader.

I fully support this book being taught in a classroom. It's a great pairing novel for English OR History.